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Cowboys Sign Sanders for Five Years, $30 Million

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 10, 1995

The balance of power in the National Football Conference shifted dramatically yesterday when Deion Sanders agreed to terms on a five-year, $30 million contract to play cornerback, some offense and return kicks for the Dallas Cowboys this season.

Sanders, considered the NFL's best covering cornerback, helped the 49ers win the Super Bowl last season. He becomes the second-highest paid Cowboy behind quarterback Troy Aikman, who has a $50 million package. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Aikman agreed to restructure his contract so the Cowboys could get Sanders under the salary cap this season.

At a news conference yesterday at the team's practice facility in Dallas, Jones would not say how much Sanders would be paid. But the Associated Press, quoting sources, reported the package included a $12 million signing bonus, which the Cowboys can pro-rate over the length of the contract to ease the sting on the cap this year.

Sanders had set a personal deadline of Friday to make a final decision. He also had received substantial offers from the 49ers and Denver Broncos, but Jones had made signing Sanders his priority. It became even more urgent when cornerback Kevin Smith ruptured an Achilles' tendon in a 35-0 season-opening victory Monday night over the New York Giants.

That same night, Jones also announced he had reached a sponsorship agreement with Nike, the shoe company that Sanders represents. When he learned about the Nike deal, San Francisco team president Carmen Policy said he was "depressed" because of its impact on the race to sign Sanders. The deal, he correctly believed, would swing the balance of power to the Cowboys.

With Sanders's considerable help, the 49ers managed to beat the Cowboys twice last season, in the regular season and the NFC championship game.

Sanders often was locked in coverage on Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, one of his closest friends and now his new teammate. Sanders most likely will be the main man on the 49ers' Jerry Rice, the NFL's all-time touchdown catch leader.

Gary Plummer, a 49ers linebacker who had tried to persuade Sanders to stay with the team, said earlier in the week, "We've been saying all along we don't have to have him to win it again. But part of the reason is to protect yourself if you don't get him. But we'd love to have him. He makes things so much easier for the pass rush, the linebackers and the guys in the secondary. No question, if we lose him, it's a blow to this defense."

But other 49ers have said privately that while Sanders was a fabulous cornerback, he did not like much contact and was so concerned about his public image that if he was beaten by a receiver, he would stop chasing his man so television cameras couldn't tell he was responsible.

Sanders signed the contract yesterday in Chicago, where he was playing outfield for the San Francisco Giants. He will join the Cowboys full time at the end of the baseball season later this month.

The Washington Redskins play the Cowboys on Oct. 1 at RFK Stadium.

Sanders will be in Dallas for a 10 a.m. news conference Monday to announce more details of the signing.

"I know the dollar situation isn't a problem on this team," Irvin told the AP. "I hope nobody tries to make it a problem. . . . I've never seen him play wide receiver but maybe he will take some of those slant passes over the middle. I could use a good decoy, too. You can never have too many of them."

Jones said the deal will stand the scrutiny of the NFL office, which can hand out a $2 million fine if it breaks the salary cap.

"Their offer was beyond significant," Policy said.

"We feel that it was not only inappropriate and irresponsible to match that offer, we feel that had we done so, it would have had a very destructive effect on the 49er team chemistry and the financial structure and sanity of this organization for years to come."

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© 1995 The Washington Post Company